Oct. 4, 2020

Prayer of the Day 

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good. Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right, and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

1 Then God spoke all these words: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; 3 you shall have no other gods before me. 4 You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

7 You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. 8 Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work. 

12 Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13 You shall not murder. 14 You shall not commit adultery. 15 You shall not steal. 16 You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17 You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. 

18 When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, 19 and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” 20 Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.”

Ten Commandments, wood carving from church in Poland.
10 Commandments, illustrative wood relief from a Catholic church in southern Poland.

Psalm 19 

Please join me in reading the psalm responsively, as printed in your bulletin. 

1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork. 2One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. 

3Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, 4 their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the ends of the world, where God has pitched a tent for the sun. 

5It comes forth like a bridegroom out of his chamber; it rejoices like a champion to run its course. 6It goes forth from the uttermost edge of the heavens and runs about to the end of it again; nothing is hidden from its burning heat.

7The teaching of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the simple. 8The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes. 

9The fear of the LORD is clean and endures forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. 10More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb. 

11By them also is your servant enlightened, and in keeping them there is great reward. 12Who can detect one’s own offenses? Cleanse me from my secret faults. 

13Above all, keep your servant from presumptuous sins; let them not get dominion over me; then shall I be whole and sound, and innocent of a great offense. 14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

Matthew 21:33-46

33 “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. 34 When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. 35 But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, “They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, “This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ 39 So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. 40 Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” 42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the scriptures: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is amazing in our eyes’? 43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 44 The one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and it will crush anyone on whom it falls.” 45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they realized that he was speaking about them. 46 They wanted to arrest him, but they feared the crowds, because they regarded him as a prophet.

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

I worked at a Lutheran camp for three summers in my late teens/early twenties in southern Montana, on the edge of the Absorka Beartooth Wilderness. We had two weeks of staff training, a week of campers, and then the staff backpack trip. The part of that staff training I kept remembering this week, as I thought about our reading from Exodus, was a three-part series our director called “How to Clean it Right.” It started in the kitchen in week one of training. We proceeded to the bathrooms, which also included how to do laundry. It culminated in the dining hall/lodge—How to Clean it Right Part 3. 

By the third year of staff training I was itching to get a backpack on and may have rolled my eyes just a few times as we proceeded through How to Clean it Right. Was it really necessary to teach all of us how to sweep a large push broom? Wasn’t it instinctive how to run the dishwasher? Did we need such exact measurements when we cleaned the bathroom?

The truth is that our very experienced camp director knew what he was doing. First, he hired a lot of people who had worked on other camp staffs. They were all coming with their experience of how to do it right at X camp, usually in the Midwest. Declaring, this is how we do it at Christikon—no arguments—led to very little squabbling among us. It also led to efficiency, even when we were tired mid-summer at the end of the week. And all of this lead to cleanliness and hygiene and therefore safety, which was at least one of the goals.

We may think we want our individual liberties but communities, which is what we were at camp, do not thrive in chaos. Norms and guidelines and sometimes even “How to Clean it Right” help everyone thrive. Not constantly negotiating those norms, we actually experience a different sort of freedom. Our creativity could be used for great goodness instead of constantly negotiating daily norms.

Something like this, but also quite unique, happened to the Israelites as they were wondering in the Wilderness. At Sinai, they were given, through Moses, what we now call the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments and the books of the law that follow, are meant to form Israel as a sacred community. They are a community rooted in right worship of God and living in justice and peace with one another. The Israelites are to live as neighbors to one another. 

They, like us, lived in a world of options, alternative choices, and gods who make powerful competing appeals. It does no good to pretend that there are no offers of well-being, happiness, and security elsewhere. We have all succumbed to other appeals at one time. In pursuit of happiness, we may choose indulgence. In pursuit of security, we may choose violence. In pursuit of genuine love, we may choose lust. It is clear that these choices are not God’s.

One scholar suggests that these ten commandments are “policy statements.”  They are not in themselves guidelines for specific action.  Instead they provide the ground and framework from which specifics may be drawn.  Taking them as policies links the commands quite clearly to the concrete community Moses formed—and to ours as well.  

This means that the commandments are not absolutes with no context.  They are instead proposals that are alternatives to other policies.  They are gifts from a god who wants to be in relationship with us, who wants to shape us into a loving and merciful and life-giving community.

Martin Luther, in his Small Catechism, adapted the Ten Commandments for his own time—an expansion of these commandments. Instead of leaving us with a list of “you should nots,” he explains what we should do. At Trinity, whenever we are discerning a new ministry or new direction, I find myself turning to a few things during the discernment or decision-making process. I turn to Jesus’ words and actions in the Gospels, I listen to what members say, I listen to my own head, heart, and gut. And yes, I turn to the Small Catechism.

Let us begin with the first one, “You shall have no other gods.” What does this mean? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things” Luther said. I still can hear my home church pastor explaining to my younger self that if we all kept the first commandment, we would not need the others. 

What did he mean? Work, money, sex, stuff, power can all become gods/idols to be worshiped. Looking back over history, we have seen that whenever the church has run amok, it’s usually because it put one of those over the triune God. Even here in Southwest Idaho, those other gods can look pretty appealing to me, though they are extremely stealthy. I will return to the first commandment next Sunday.

So, then we do well to look at some of the later commandments. Here we will look at just two other commandments and Luther’s explanations: You shall not murder.  What does this mean? Luther wrote, “we should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbor in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.”

You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. What does this mean? Luther again, ‘we should defend our neighbors, speak well of them, and explain everything in the kindest way.”

It is so easy for me to see these explanations in our housing and feeding ministries, but also in the ways I watch you all live out your faith in the workplace, home, and larger community. You are caring for your neighbors in so many ways. Neighbor love is why we are wearing masks and physically distancing today. No. I do not love wearing a mask while preaching. Yes—I agree that the it is unfortunate that we were given different messages about masks, though the intention was good—to have enough masks to protect healthcare providers. 

We also know as a community that there will be more to learn about this virus. Science may not be a god we should worship, but I firmly believe that science is a gift from God that can be used for more neighbor love. Only if you are going to live off the grid, away from all human beings, can you live without any rules or policy statements or responsibility to other creatures. But what kind of life would that be? What good is all that individual liberty if you are alone? We are meant to be in relationship with other human beings.   

We are wondering today, how can everyone flourish and be liberated? George Bernard Shaw, the great Irish writer, put it succinctly, “Liberty requires responsibility. That’s why most men despise it.” Or, as a biblical scholar commenting on our Exodus passage wrote, “Belonging comes with responsibility.” 

I hope we can take responsibility for one another joyfully and with open hearts. Actual liberation for all people is, I am quite sure, what God intends. 

The Ten Commandments should not be understood as a strict list of laws given by God to the people to follow in blind loyalty or out of fear of retribution if they disobeyed. Rather, they should be regarded as the exercise of God’s free will toward the Israelites and their acceptance of God’s gracious initiative to be in covenantal relationship with God as a new community—a community as the people of the Lord God.

If there is a person or a group of people being enslaved, abused, treated unequally, then the rules change. In fact, be prepared for deliverance. Remember that our lesson this morning began not with the words, “Thou shalt not,” but instead with these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” 

It is true that in that incidence, God was delivering a specific group of people. But there is enough evidence throughout the entire biblical narrative that all of human liberation is the ultimate goal. Jesus talks about this in language of God’s reign coming to earth. God’s hopes of liberation and thriving for all people are the good news today. The heart of our gospel text is in v. 43, “the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people that produces the fruits of the kingdom.” 

God’s love and mercy free us to work in the vineyard, to bear fruit. That fruit bearing takes on different specificity in different contexts, but it certainly means caring for our neighbors, especially those who are not yet fully liberated, fully whole, fully well. 

We are not left to wander this world aimless. God gives ordinances, guidance, instruction, a vision for how we might live together. What’s more? The psalmist compares the Law to drippings of the honeycomb. In other words, it is pure gift to have guidance on how to be in relationship with God, other creatures, and even myself.

Prayers of Intercession 

With confidence in God’s grace and mercy, let us pray for the church, the world, and all those in need. 

Holy God, you call us to work for peace and justice in your vineyard. Refresh the church with your life, that we may bear fruit through work and service. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Thank you for the abundant harvest of the earth. Bless and care for those whose hands bring the fruits of the earth to the tables of all who hunger. May we be inspired by your servants who cared deeply for your creation especially Francis of Assisi, whom we commemorate today. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Curb the impulses of greed and pride that lead us to take advantage of others. Grant that world leaders seek the fruits of the kingdom for the good and welfare of all people. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer.

Sustain all who suffer with the promise of new life. Assured of your presence, heal our pain and suffering, and equip us to embrace all bodies aching for wholeness of mind, body, and soul. We call to mind those who are struggling today especially Trinity member Bob Torrey, recovering from surgery, President Trump and all those suffering from the impact of COVID-19 physically, economically, mentally, or spiritually. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

We pray for all managers in our community and for all who seek employment. Give hope and a future to those who lack meaningful work, those who have been marginalized or abused in the workplace, and those who desire new opportunities. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Thank you for the saints who teach us to live faithfully in your vineyard. May our chorus join theirs until our labor is complete. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer. 

Listen as we call on you, O God, and enfold in your loving arms all for whom we pray, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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2 Responses to Oct. 4, 2020

  1. Lothar Pietz says:

    Good stuff, Meggan!

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